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November 2, 2007

Work on New MSU Billings Soccer Field Could Begin Next Week 

Community initiative raises $300,000 in pledges for state-of-the-art, all-weather facility

soccer fieldMSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Work could begin as early as next week on a new state-of-the art, all-weather soccer field at the Montana State University Billings College of Technology campus.

Construction bids for the $750,000 soccer field facility will be opened on Tuesday, Nov. 6, said Eakle Barfield, director of facilities services at MSU Billings. If a bid is accepted, he said, work could begin as early as Wednesday.

Private sector funding for the project is ongoing through a collaborative university/community partnership. The project cleared $300,000 in pledges in late October and MSU Billings Chancellor Ron Sexton gave approval this week for the project to move forward.

“The community response for this has been remarkable,” Sexton said. “As with other endeavors now under way at the university — from development of new academic programs to completion of a new building at the COT — the Billings community has been extremely supportive and generous.”

The new facility at MSU Billings will be a fantastic resource for the two youth organizations in town: Magic City Soccer and Yellowstone Soccer Association, said Don Trentham, MSU Billings director of soccer and head women’s coach. In the spring and summer, youth teams will be able to practice and play on the field. In addition, MSU Billings will host camps and clinics for youth players throughout the year on the new field and officials said the university hopes to host as many high school games as possible during their fall season.  The new facility will enable soccer to become a year-round sport in Billings and used by many segments of the community.

The project calls for a college-regulation, all-weather artificial turf field (120 yards x 72 yards) with lights so that games, practices and community programs can take place there year-round. New team benches, bleachers and fencing are also on the drawing board.

The endeavor started about a year ago when Trentham met with some supporters to discuss the possibilities of building a new field. The current field did not meet the growing interest in soccer in Billings .

MSU Billings is in its 12th season of NCAA Division II men’s and women’s soccer. The university has the only men’s intercollegiate soccer program in the state, and it was the second of now five women’s intercollegiate soccer programs in Montana . The 50 male and female soccer student-athletes comprise over 25 percent of all Yellowjacket student-athletes.

Trentham said that in order to continue to attract high quality, top soccer recruits and exceptional student athletes to the university and to entice highly ranked teams to compete against them, excellent facilities are needed.

The current soccer facility has had playing surface and configuration challenges both in the local community and within the collegiate soccer community, he said, and the current playing surface is well below the standard to which collegiate teams are accustomed. The safety of the university’s student athletes and those of the competing teams is a central part of the project.

“This is a great step forward for our program,” Trentham said Thursday, after getting the go-ahead for development. “Our teams are getting it done on the field and the community is getting it done for this facility.”

The men’s team finished the season 13-4-1 overall and 10-2-1 against regional opponents.  MSU Billings is now fifth in the NCAA regional poll. Following the NCAA Men’s Soccer Committee selection show on Nov. 5, the top four teams in the Far West Region will be invited to the NCAA Tournament hosted Nov. 8-12 by the No. 1 seed. The Yellowjackets will know by Monday if they will continue with post-season games.

The women’s soccer team — currently 9-9-1 — finishes its season at Seattle University on Saturday.

The university agreed last winter to move forward with the new soccer initiative, but Sexton said the funding needed to come from private donations. The MSU Billings Foundation board of trustees agreed to coordinate the soccer facility project and lend its fund-raising expertise to the cause.

Marilynn Miller, president and CEO of the MSU Billings Foundation, said she knew support existed in Billings for construction of a new soccer complex, but was pleasantly surprised by the immediate and very positive reaction.

“The response has been incredible because it’s been so quick,” Miller said. “People understand the vision. They’re getting it. Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the world and in the state and they believe in this and are rallying behind it because they see it as an asset for the community at large.”

Trentham and Miller said the leadership of community volunteers Larry VanAtta and Greg McDonald was invaluable in moving the initiative forward. VanAtta, senior vice president-financial consultant with RBC Dain Rauscher, was one of the leaders on the committee that helped comb the community for donations. McDonald, whose family runs Wendy’s of Montana , agreed to help make contacts and is sponsoring the new scoreboard. Others on the soccer project steering committee include MSU Billings head men’s coach Dan McNally, assistant coaches Ally Stroup and Adam Spinelli as well as community supporters Dr. Jim Elliott, Lance Hoskins, Larry Martin, Susan Maier, Shelley Prosinski, Kevin Luse and Steve Baum.

“I love good causes and the kids will really benefit from this one,” said VanAtta.

An estimated 500 young people participate in Magic City Soccer each year and about 2,500 children participate in the Yellowstone Soccer Association program each spring and fall. All the soccer coaches at MSU Billings work with Magic City as coaches.

Unfortunately the soccer facilities that are available in Billings — from game facilities at Amend Park to parks and practice fields at schools — cannot support the number of youth players involved in the game, both Trentham and VanAtta said.

“I’m proud of the city of Billings for what they’re doing for soccer,” VanAtta said.

If begun next week, the soccer field project will be one of three major construction projects at the COT. Work on a new $11 million, 48,000 square-foot health sciences and general education academic building is nearing its final phases and a $175,000 project to improve the COT entrance is under way.

For questions about how to assist the fund-raising endeavor for the new soccer facility, contact the MSU Billings Foundation at 657-2244.

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